PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Thomas Pieters left no doubt: he loves Santa Monica.
When the Belgian-turned-Fighting-Illini last walked the Riviera grounds, he was winning the 2012 NCAA individual title. Pieters returns almost five years later to kick off the 2017 PGA Tour portion of his schedule because he loves visiting the coastal community abutting this week’s Genesis Open venue.
“I’ve got great memories here and I loved Santa Monica when I stayed here so it’s always been one of my favorite spots to come back,” the 25-year-old said. “Yeah, just staying in Santa Monica, we used to play in the midwest and it’s not very pretty down there, so Santa Monica definitely stuck with me.”
The Illinois golfer emerged as a budding star following a 4-1 Ryder Cup performance that included more exuberance than Pieter is used to.
“You guys saw it, I normally never fist pump, so that was new for me.”
Pieters admitted to a post-Ryder Cup letdown that induced a five-week winter break without touching a club.
“I didn’t really have anything left in me. I feel like I put everything I had in the qualifying process like those weeks leading up to Denmark, the Olympics and then Czech. I really gave everything I had and especially in the Ryder Cup.”
Playing the Genesis Open on a sponsor exemption, Pieters returns to the course where he posted a 5-under 208 to beat TCU’s Julien Brun and Florida’s Tyler McCumber by three.
“We were off one of the earliest tee times, so I got done, posted 5 or 6 under, and then I was walking up the hill and Julien Brun, who was probably two or three back, was just walking to the first tee and it was like, well, try to catch me and I had to wait five hours.”
The three-time European Tour winner and world No. 47 begins a run-up to his first Masters with upcoming starts at the Honda Classic, WGC-Mexico City Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Match Play. Pieters hopes to play well enough in 12 starts this year to earn PGA Tour status, though he’s not entirely sure what will be necessary.
“I’m not sure how it works, but I just need to play good golf.”
Returning to the scene of your NCAA Championship victory should get Pieters in a good frame of mind.